Anna Leahy

Art by Seonna Hong

What Happened Was: my mother was pregnant with me


What happened was my mother was pregnant with me
she mapped a way through without stopping


What happened was the dean thought she would stop
the dean wanted her to go away, he expected her to go away
the dean said that she might fall down the stairs
the dean made his secretary call to tell my mother this
he would not tell her himself
she was not worth his time
she was expected to lose her way in this world


What happened was my mother finished a semester late
she wore a graduation robe with three velvet stripes on each sleeve
she held my months-old self for a photo, proof this could be done
she missed that year’s bar exam
she passed the bar exam the next year, a year late


What happened was my mother told me that life wasn’t fair
my mother wrote fairness into the law for me


What happened was my mother told me that other children needed her as much as I did
my mother had her own white phone on the wall for their emergencies


What happened was my mother knew she didn’t have chances others did
my mother knew that she had chances others didn’t


What happened was I grew up believing in fairness and chance

What Happened Was: I was at a party at a fraternity house


What happened was I was at a party at a fraternity house
I had been to many parties at this fraternity house
I knew the men in this fraternity house


What happened was probably not what you think


What happened was one of the men kept trying to kiss me
he had done this before at parties there
when he drank enough, which was what we all did at parties there


What happened was I asked him to leave me alone
I wandered away to get out of range
I talked with other men
I tried to avoid him
I told him, just stop


What happened was he followed
he pleaded
he grabbed my arm
he leaned in close
I smelled his exhalations
he would not go away


What happened was I put my hand on his shoulder
I repeated, just stop
I raised my knee to his crotch
not especially swiftly
not aggressively
rather gently, somewhat firmly


What happened was everyone treated him as harmless
his friends said he liked me, that was all
I asked why they had not pulled him away
I asked them what I should have done instead
I gained something and lost something in that moment of asking





















What Happened Was: he was extending kindness


What happened was he was extending kindness


What happened was I shared a slight concern about my prospects
I imagine I looked like doubt to him


What happened was he said that when he was in the room
he would advocate for me
he would do what he could


What happened was he didn’t think I could be in the room
he didn’t think I could be in the room before he was in the room
he didn’t think about how much closer to the room I was
he didn’t think through what he said
he didn’t have to


What happened was not important to him
not something he would remember
not worth talking about with him


What happened was what he said didn’t change anything, not really
he felt better about himself for having said it
for me, there was only going into the room before him


What happened was he was offering me something
I was ungrateful because I didn’t need it


What Happened Was: ______________________________

What happened was


What happened was I grew through and around and in between it all
whatever it was—or wasn’t—became me


What happened was I wrote what happened
I erased what I wrote so the page would hold only silence
I didn’t want what happened to interrupt the silence of a blank page
to be contained by the space around it
I didn’t want what had—or had not—happened to matter on a page
I didn’t want it to be seen and not matter
I didn’t want anyone to see how it didn’t matter
erasure is from the Latin for scrape or scratch


What happened was avoidance


What happened was the page made me nervous
no, the person I imagined reading the words made me nervous
my memory is unmemorable
I’m no worse for the wear of recollection
I cede that point


What happened was the blank page becomes an invitation
a space before text
a place for someone else’s voice
another story
my hand cupped to my ear, I’m listening


What happened was there is room enough
it’s a big page
turn the page, and there’s another
turn it over in your mind
draw a blank
fill it in


Anna Leahy is the author of Aperture (poetry) and Tumor (nonfiction). Her latest chapbook is What Happened Was: (Harbor Editions, 2021). Her essays have won top awards from the Los Angeles Review, Ninth Letter, and Dogwood. She edits TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics. See more at

Anna Leahy’s Website

Harbor Editions, Small Harbor Publishing

What Happened Was: at Small Harbor Publishing



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